Evolutionary Existentialism

David Barash wants us to be “evolutionary existentialists.”

On the basis of evolutionary existentialism, I would … like to suggest the heretical and admittedly paradoxical notion that, in fact, we need to teach more disobedience. Not only disobedience to political and social authority but especially disobedience to some of our troublesome genetic inclinations.

Yes and no.

Yes, there is a grain of truth here. We are not, and should not be, slaves to our natural desires. That is partly because we have many, sometimes conflicting natural desires. It is also because we are also guided by cultural conventions and individual judgments. Humans are animals with genes, but we are also cultural and rational animals.

But also no: complete rejection of our natural desires will not last very many generations. A disobedient population of evolutionary existentialists will soon go extinct. In any case, why reject or disobey a liking for art or music, both of which are genetic inclinations?

So, what we really need is to not to disobey natural inclinations but to combine them with whatever wisdom can be found in cultural rules and personal judgments. Entirely disobeying natural desires will simply make people obedient followers of cultural fashion.

I say that Barash’s “evolutionary existentialism” is one-sided, exaggerated, and therefore false.


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